Energy & Environment

Energy regulator backtracks on assessing climate impacts of natural gas pipelines

Courtesy Colonial Pipeline

A federal energy regulator voted unanimously Thursday night to pull back on a policy that would assess the climate effects of existing natural gas pipelines.

In its Thursday meeting, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said the proposal would be treated as a draft and only be applied to upcoming pipeline projects.

“Over the last month, I’ve had discussions with numerous pipeline and [liquefied natural gas] companies and I know my colleagues have as well,” Chairman Richard Glick, who was nominated to FERC by former President Trump and appointed chair by President Biden, said at the meeting. “What I generally heard is that the policy statements raised additional questions that could benefit from further clarification.”

Glick went on to say FERC’s approach to natural gas pipeline regulation in recent years “hasn’t been consistent with our legal responsibilities, and the courts keep on telling us that,” noting the D.C. Circuit Court has contradicted FERC on pipeline or liquefied natural gas (LNG) certificates.

FERC approved the policy in February after years of criticism from environmental groups, who have accused the agency of rubber-stamping pipelines regardless of environmental impact. A 2020 investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee found the agency has approved some 99 percent of pipeline projects in the past 20 years.

However, Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sharply criticized the policy, particularly amid rising gas prices and volatility in the energy market after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the ranking member on the Senate Energy Committee, said in a statement Thursday that the agency “must go back to the drawing board and start over on these harmful proposals.”

Former FERC commissioner Neil Chatterjee, a Republican who served as an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), called the move a “big-time win” for pipeline operators, saying in a tweet “pipeline companies thinking about filing new applications should expedite and move forward ASAP before the commission finalizes the statements.”

Kelly Sheehan, Sierra Club’s Senior Director of Energy Campaigns, blasted the decision in a statement, saying “the fossil fuel industry and the politicians they finance are pitching a fit because they’re worried FERC’s modest proposed policy changes might mean they no longer have free rein to build as many polluting pipelines as they want with no regard for the impacts on communities or the climate.”

Updated: 4:19 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Barrasso Mitch McConnell Neil Chatterjee
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